Where CX Initiatives Start…and End

It’s the New Year and with it there are many prognostications and predictions in the air. Likewise, there are many resolutions and promises that have been made. Whether it’s losing that extra 10 pounds (or more in my case) or finally getting after that [insert big life changing project here] after all those years, we get after it with a renewed sense of urgency.

As a testament to our new commitment we tell our friends and family about our new covenant. We buy a new weight scale, a new sports watch, or that new tool you really needed to do [insert big-life-changing-project here]. Those symbols further embolden us to travel down that trail of change. To do things differently.

But the wheel ruts of inertia can run very deep and its hard to pull out of old habits and much easier to slip into familiar patterns. Only about 9% of people actually end up keeping their new year’s resolution.

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It is much the same when it comes to organizations trying to be more customer centric, the difference being is that it is hundreds or thousands of people who are faced with a new resolution rather than just one.

We have been looking at the problem of ‘customer satisfaction’ all wrong for years. We can study customers until we are blue in the face, it doesn’t matter if we aren’t willing or able to change the experience. That experience originates from within the organization and in order for that to change, the organization must first.

Unfortunately organizations, like individuals, do not like change and will continually drift back to their heritage comfort zone, whether that is great supply chain discpline, engineering, sales, R&D, or whatever made it successful in the first page. Change means uncertainty. Uncertainty is scary. Scary is bad.

You should celebrate and enshrine what has historically made your organization great. It is what made your customers fall in love with your brand in the first place. However, we cannot let that heritage shackle you to a past that is faltering in the present and will cast you into oblivion in the future. The fundamental secret in on getting a payoff on CX centricity lays in an organization’s willingness to do things fundamentally different.

No bones about it; change is painful. Reorganizations, reshuffling of resources, on boarding of new people, and exiting of some of the old. It is a scary, chaotic time, but without this kind of radical change, organizations not willing to invest in it, will sign their own death warrant. You have a choice though; you can choose to change or have it done to you.

How to get started?

First, it starts with the top. Many times it starts with the founder him/herself. Without the unequivocal support of the top, organizational change will fail. It’s that simple. Full stop as my UK friends like to say.

Second, it is a willingness for the organization to accept what they see in the mirror and be ready to make changes. This can rarely be done without an outside perspective. As passenger on airplane once said to me in a more difficult time of my life “you can not see the big picture if you are in it”. It is true. If you are embedded in the culture as a change agent you have two things working against you. First, you do not have the objectivity required to see the big picture and two, you are hopelessly politicized in the organization.  Home grown change agents can and do exist, but they need someone on the outside to help them demonstrate and legitimize the fact that not all babies are cute.

Third, start small and with easier wins. There are no ‘easy wins’ but if you can clearly demonstrate the advantage of taking on an experiential lens and demonstrate a ROI you can going to get more people on board…even those folks in finance.

Fourth, your sponsor (i.e., the aforementioned top dog) will need to make some tough calls and create a coalition of support. This may involve dissolving some long standing relations and engaging in new ones.  It is not enough to appoint a Chief Customer Officer or Chief Experience Officer and think for a minute that will change anything. This is an endemic cultural issue that needs to be tackled from all angles; people, rewards, process, communication, tools, information, and even products.  Those are the tools at your disposal.

Finally, you must tell people where you going, even if it is not completely clear to you. Without a goal, any goal, people will flounder even if they are highly motivated. As the story goes, sometimes any old map will do. You need a finish line, even if that finish will get moved. Never underestimate the power of clear, repeated, communication about where the organization is going and why…and stick with it!

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” – Gandhi

According to Ken Blanchard up to 70% of organizational change efforts fail today. Yet it can and has been done. Brands left for dead such as Apple, Converse, Old Spice, Lego, Land Rover, and others have picked themselves up and become wildly successful once again, mostly by paying attention to one thing; their customers. And that customer focus starts from within.

Blockchains, Burgers, and Blimps: The Convergence of Transportation, Retailing, and Software

It’s a foggy spring morning as a delivery truck silently pulls away from what was once a ‘mega center” supermarket on its way to deliver groceries and goods. The truck was loaded almost entirely by highly efficient robotic pickers inside the repurposed space. Pulling in and out of the warehouse docks are larger  autonomous trucks resupplying the warehouse using a networked multi-node block-chain approach to the supply chain management.

Pulling away for delivery on that infamous costly last mile you might notice something missing behind the steering wheel; a human being. This truck is an autonomous delivery vehicle. The other thing you notice missing is noise and a tailpipe; since the entire fleet now electric and recharges via the solar array atop the distribution center when not in use.

Other private autonomous vehicles zoom in and out the distribution point as well, making use of unused capacity, they are personal vehicles put to work for their owners and others (for a fee) that previously sat in a parking lot for most of the day.

The robo-delivery truck makes its way from the distribution center and pulls into the center of its delivery radius several miles away and stop at the side of the road. The top of the truck mechanically unfurls and a dozen of drones lift off from the upper deck aircraft-carrier-style from the truck buzzing through the air to deliver everything from hamburgers to shaving cream right to customers’ doorsteps in parallel within hours of the order being placed.

Drones similarly service rural and remote households by descending from the heavens, but their distribution centers are 45,000 feet in the sky from a giant semi-rigid airship

Sounds far fetched? It’s not.

Everything I described above is either with us today or in testing phases. Customer expectations of the breadth of product choice and delivery time are shortening on a monthly basis. While there is no doubt that there are significant barriers to full scale deployments (shotgun practice being one hazard here in Arkansas), it is no longer a question of “if” but the real questions being “when”, “where”, and “how much”. There is no going back once customers get a taste of something better, they will demand it.

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Photo: University of Cincinnati/Lisa Ventre

There really is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. These ideas are now becoming reality today as giant corporations race to find ways to increase ease of buying and decrease time to value after purchase.  So what does this mean for industries and people alike?

First, there is a fundamental convergence occurring among retail, distribution, software, and transportation industries. We already see this starting coalesce today. Evidence can be seen with GM’s partnership with Lyft and its acquisition of Cruise Automation.  Walmart’s is partnering with Uber and Lyft to deliver consummables to homes.  Meanwhile the race for the best map maker  for autonomous vehicles continues, starting with Google’s acquisition of Waze and most recently with Intel’s investments into the technology.

Oh, and let’s not forget Google’s new company Waymo who is on the forefront of deploying autonomous vehicles and Amazon who managed to get their hands on customers’ shopping lists via in home automation.   Then there’s a tiny company called Apple.  With a name like ‘Project Titan‘ it’s probably just a small side project for them.  It’s all coming together in expected, and probably unexpected ways to better serve customer needs.

Well that’s all well and good for customers BUT those customers need to work to pay for all that new fangled convenience.  This technology will displace many jobs of today.  A new study from MIT found that 3,000 ride sharing vehicles could replace the current fleet of 14,000 taxis in New York City.   What other jobs will be eliminated?

Well, as a percentage of the workforce we will need relatively less grocery clerks, checkers, delivery drivers, long haul truckers, warehouse employees, and fewer farming and factory workers. These monotonous and sometimes dangerous jobs will slowly fade away and be replaced by automation in much the same way as manufacturing did in the 1990s.

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Bureau of Labor Statistics, report from Erin Lane 7/10/14

On the gain side of job creation, we will need more people to help design, build and refine these systems. We will need engineers, programmers, statisticians, logicians, operations managers, communication, and customer services experts. In other words, we will need people to design, build, and maintain tools rather than operate them.

Nations will need to upgrade their workforce if they hope to compete.  The future workforce is one that will need to be better educated.  The fundamentals of math, reading, and writing will be required, but insufficient for this new world.  We will need a work forces that is also skilled at critical thinking, collboaration, and independent thought.  Jobs requiring only a high school education will continue to be less plentiful and less economically rewarding as those jobs are sucked into the vacuum of cheaper and more efficient automation as they are today.

To prepare for this future we should be reconfiguring and investing in our education system accordingly, lest we be left behind. I am optimistic that we can move forward in preparing for this new world.  Selfishly, I do look forward to ordering my burger from a blimp…perhaps then I can finally get an In-n-Out Burger without having to drive to Texas.